<< Let me in… >>
The man lost contact with reality at the mere whisper of the first syllables. His arms fell lifeless to his sides and his weapon slipped meekly from his hand. He found himself rapt, utterly devoured by the voice as if it had swallowed him alive… The air was thick down there, but laced with honey and the lingering scent of exotic fruits.
He was a member of the Inquisition and his orders were clear: seize and interrogate the cantastorie. But now that he was in front of her, his mind could not comprehend how anyone could wish harm to such a creature.
Two eyes. Azure. Hewn from a block of otherworldly sapphire and set in the midst of a pure, porcelain face. Below them a crimson slash, sculpted and curled ever so slightly upwards, invitingly.
He was rocked to the core, his faith wilting under the strain of her gaze. He would go willingly into that pit of despair just for the chance to taste those lips; to savour and blemish that pristine skin.
The cantastorie uttered a few more words, and slowly everything sank into a seductive darkness…
When he finally awoke it took several minutes to get his bearings. Who and where he was escaped him. He looked around, but was seemingly alone… No trace of the woman – no smile in the darkness. No eyes.
Suddenly, he felt something hot drip from his nose, wetting his upper lip. Reaching up instinctively, he wiped his face only to find his fingers stained with blood.
Was he wounded? He didn’t feel wounded. He felt something else entirely…
What kind of sorcery was this?!
There was something different about the village that morning.
From the main square came tantalizing music – the notes of which, as if cradled by the wind, sighed through trees and round street corners, creeping their way into each alleyway of the small town.
A group of onlookers quickly gathered, forming a bustling throng around a woman singing summer songs, full of verve and colour.
No colour existed though, that could hope to emulate the deep red smile, or starry eyes of the cantastorie herself – for her beauty defied logic. This was hard to notice… if you watched her for an hour, the subtleties might have revealed themselves slowly – but only if you were really paying attention. You might begin to see how her hair shimmered like liquid, reflecting light which was not there, how her eyes had depths to them which no one could countenance: deep blue pools to the unknown.
Unnaturally beautiful. Unnatural.
Although many watched for hours, they did not see. They could not see… no-one, be it man or woman, elder or youth, was immune to the cantastorie’s fascination.
Her impossible beauty was not the only thing which they failed to notice. Enveloping the space created by the music she wove a red, soft haze, permeated with twinkling gossamer threads over which the singer had complete control. She manipulated them. Breathing them in. Exhaling them out.
As her performance drew to a close, the town awakened from its stupor.
Enamoured after such a magical moment, the people of the town took some time to come around. Some of them remained light headed; hearts racing, blood pumping loudly in their ears. Nobody cared to mention it, but the performance had stirred deep desires within them… unspeakable ones. Whatever it was that held sway over them, they hoped it would soon pass, and found reassurance that it was probably just part of the act.
To watch that scene whilst immune to the cantastorie’s power would be something special. To see how she preys upon the innocent, exploits the unknowing and revitalises herself with the essence of those she comes into contact with…
Was she actually drawing on their blood, as those malignant creatures from ancient myths were said to do?
What kind of sorcery did she command through her music?
To find an answer we must delve into the story of an inexplicable fact, something that brings us to the remote island of Sicily and explores an immense, congenital force none of us can escape: instinct.
There is little known about the woman in this story; today at least, she is known as Sanguìnea. Her past is shrouded in mystery – with no record of her given name.
She was a starry-eyed girl, born to overjoyed parents who were blissfully unaware of the crucial role their daughter would play in the wider scheme of life.
They were normal people; hard working, well placed within local society, with good heads on their shoulders and faithful to God.
For their daughter though, things were not as straight-forward. Inexplicably, and to their horror, in the early years of childhood she developed a terrible and unquenchable thirst. The unholiest and most dreadful of omens; her taste was for blood.
In Sicily no less! The land of countless legends, full to the brim with folklore and tales of old; where eager storytellers spoke almost daily of witches and heathens that would swallow your dreams or steal your soul.
The only thing the parents could be sure of, was that none of the old stories had a happy ending. Had the secret of their daughter been uncovered, idle gossip would have spread through the region like wildfire, with talk of hexes and deals with the devil destroying any hope of sensible discourse, and with it any hope of life for their child. She would have met her end almost immediately – alone, hands and body tightly bound, with burning flames dancing at her feet.
Her parents, though god fearing, continued to love their daughter despite her affliction, and sought to keep her unnatural tastes hidden from the world. She was after all an unnaturally sweet creature, and loved by all who knew her. She could not be blamed for that which she had neither chosen, nor could control.
She was afforded the best her parents could provide – by way of an incredible education she was encouraged to explore the creative arts; literature, music, singing and etiquette lessons.
Although they would never admit as much, her parents hoped that by keeping her engaged in her studies she would be distracted from the feral urges that dwelled within her. Inevitably though, from time to time this was not successful, and her impulses would resurface, blighting what otherwise would have been a model upbringing.
When these ‘accidents’ occurred, the family’s wider influence within the community was their shield against probing questions and inquisitive neighbours. This defence covered them and allowed at least a semblance of normality, but what they did not realise was how conflicted their daughter became. She was truly loved by all who came into contact with her, bringing light and joy to the people she crossed, but she could not countenance her dark desires; the part of herself that she truly hated, for it went against everything that was right and proper in the world… everything she had been taught to be.
Try as she might, she could not suppress the instincts inside, and was forced to answer the calling of blood again and again, quenching her thirst and ending the lives of others in an unmanageable haze. With all her energy she fought, but the urges came from too deep within, and were too strong.
She hated herself. She hated how weak she was, how helpless she was…
But in those wild, predatory moments, she hated one thing above all else:
she hated that it was only in these moments that she felt alive; an unbridled sense of accomplishment, the burning heat of success, a surge of primordial energy flowing sharply through her veins.
By the time she came of age the accidents were becoming too frequent and so, with a heavy burden on her soul, she decided to leave – in part, in an attempt to find something to remedy her thirst, but also as a reprieve for her parents, who had always cared for her despite the dangers of doing so.
And so her journey into the unknown began. She left behind a small piece of her heart on that island, not knowing if she would ever return.
How many of us would be willing to forego the happiness of today for the chance of a better tomorrow? To set sail into the unknown, alone, carrying only the memories of our loved ones? Much about Sanguìnea remains a mystery, but within her lay courage and boldness upon which future stories could be told.
She hoped that discovering new places, exploring the vast horizon and leaving behind the issues of her old life perhaps would lead to something better… But what she would find out, is that when you are running from yourself, the path is always too long, often too hazardous, and inevitably leads to misfortune.
Her adventure proved sparse in joy and rich in difficulty. After months of wandering and poor nourishment the girl found herself in the midst of a harsh winter, stumbling through cold northern woods, confused by an absurd existence she couldn’t understand.
On the verge of collapse, she took some time to sit and dwell on her thoughts.
It was evening, and soon the burning sunset would stake its claim to the lingering spaces amongst the trees, filtering through tangles of conifers and enveloping that which it touched with an ambered hue.
The view was spectacular, but now was not the time to enjoy it. This was her darkest hour, and the beauty of her surroundings was not powerful enough to command her overburdened, downtrodden gaze. Tears rolled down her face, dripping silently into the mud at her feet.
So overwhelmed she was, by the tragedy of her existence, that she failed to notice a change in the silent air. This change we are all familiar with in some sense, but would likely find it difficult to describe. It is the subtle shift in atmosphere that occurs between the moments when we are alone, and when we are not – the silent itch of feeling watched, of having something inhabit a space which was up until a few moments ago, entirely yours.
She didn’t notice.
It began as a misshapen silhouette against the verdant background, but slowly fleshed out, becoming larger and more tangible. As everything drew together, an enigmatic figure emerged from the trees, trailing a halo of sunlight behind him.
He was only a few feet away before she became aware and looked up. He was unsettling – his attire reminded her of a clergyman, maybe even a cardinal… yet his appearance belied his nature, for in front of her stood something pure but not holy; this was unconsecrated, almost profane – reverberating with unnatural power.
This was not a man of God. His face was obscured behind a crude mask, the skull of some kind of animal… which one, she could not be sure.
He stopped and spoke. His voice was warm, thick, and oozed from his mouth as if it were blood – it emanated such magnetism that it penetrated her mind and resonated with notes that seemed inescapably familiar to her.
Spellbound, she sat and heard.
He did not say much, but then again he did not have to. Every word was considered, as if chosen specifically for her, and it was destiny that she was here at this moment to hear them. He handed her an old book, and explained that the solution to her troubles consisted of accepting the primeval side of herself that she hated so much. She needed to explore it, understand it, and revel in it.
He also handed her something else: a large glass vial full of blood. The blood was his own. He encouraged her to drink, and with the sustenance it would bring, celebrate the beginning of a new life.
However, the girl was so starving that upon seeing the succulent red liquid, she devoured the contents with such immediate ferocity that everything else – the forest, the sun, the cold, the man – everything else paled into insignificance.
When she looked up again, the man had gone… as quickly and as silently as he had appeared. Her first thought was to hunt him down and quench the entirety of her thirst, ripping open his neck and consuming his essence until he was left a lifeless husk. Too much time had passed since her last meal, and her instincts told her to feed.
She was only carried away for a moment, as almost immediately her rational self regained control, and she felt ashamed at allowing those animalistic impulses to control her once again. She caught her breath and realized it was now dusk. The winter sky still harboured the reflected light of the sun, though it had now disappeared under the mountainous horizon.
The girl found herself more bewildered than ever, as questions burst into her mind – how much time had passed with this unexpected visitor? To her it had seemed but a few moments.
Who the hell was that individual? There was a familiarity to their connection, as if they had shared experiences somehow. She was sure she had never seen him before, but he did not resonate as totally unknown to her. He quite obviously knew about her affliction and particular tastes though, and this was a cause for concern. Someone she did not trust was now inexplicably aware of her secret.
Why was she unable to react in his presence? She had been transfixed – meek and surrenderous to his gaze, and simply sat, listening in silence.
And what of these obscure references to instinct and the importance of reading the book which lay at her feet, staring up at her from the now frozen mud?
There were too many questions, and no immediate answers. She decided the tome would likely hold some insight, so picked it up and resumed her journey through the world.
In the following days, our protagonist took time to study that volume. On the surface, it seemed to be a simple text which explored music and composition, but she learned that by taking a deeper, more focused approach one could unlock its secrets. These secrets were plentiful, and touched upon the unspoken, ungodly world of the arcane.
She was particularly drawn to the sections which described how melodies interact with vital aspects of the human body. For amongst the words penned on those ancient pages, there emerged a link between music and the flow of blood: certain combinations of notes and vocal intonation allowed a competent musician to seize and manipulate it. They could control its movement – pump fast or stop dead – but also its composition: altering it to a gaseous state, say for inhalation, or solidifying it for… an excruciating and untimely end.
This book was so forbidden, so heretical, that to merely carry it would have resulted in persecution and death, yet she was fascinated by its contents, reading it countless times over the coming days and weeks.
Being able to control blood was a great and terrible power in itself, but for her, blood was something more. She was bonded to it, consumed by it, and understood it like no other. This was her destiny.
Today, Sanguìnea seems happy. Throughout the peninsula she enjoys great fame, unrivalled in both skill and beauty, but she is also cloaked in mystery. Her name crops up often in the stories of the people, whose tales blur the lines between what is real, and what is not.
Though she appears content, the shadow which clouds her existence remains, and continues to prevent her from being truly free.
Blood is its avatar, and its seal – the redness, and the calling of blood.
Instinct can never cease to be. It flows into the mind’s deepest corners, like an undulating and neverending river. It never rests. Sanguìnea sings enchanted songs in order to appease it, using melodies to satisfy the red thirst without betraying her inner kindness.
For her at least, there is a kind of peace in this compromise… whether it will stand the test of time remains to be seen. She senses that one day she will be found wanting when confronted with the darkest parts of herself, but until that time comes, she lives for each day as it comes.
Strengthened by her new mantra, that every moment must be lived as if it is your last, she pushes the boundaries of the possible, striving to show the best of her abilities.
Resolved by the courage that led her to leave home many years ago, she faces the cruel fate the world has given her with a smile; gifting colour, summer stories, and songs to those who care to listen, and more often than not… smile back.